Gotta hand it to 'em: Those Wall Street guys are smart. They've already found two ways to plunder the nation's wealth for their own enrichment, and now they're working on a third.
The first way? Identify and finance a wave of Democratic politicians who would join with Republicans in deregulating Wall Street. The second? Employ the same so-called "centrist" Democrats, along with their Republican cohorts, to bail them out after they crashed the economy. That bailout continues, and the assurance of protection from being prosecuted for their criminal misdeeds.
Now comes Wall Street's "third way" of hijacking the nation's wealth: it's trying to persuade Democratic supporters to support the dismantling of the social contract that has held our society together for 75 years. And it's using many of the same tactics -- and many of the same faces -- it used in its first two forays.
If you liked Wall Street deregulation, an inequitable bank bailout, and a get-out-of-jail-free card for bank executives, you're going to love this.
The Anti-Social Contract Movement
The goal is to cut the popular and successful programs they describe as "entitlements." Cutting Social Security benefits will reduce political pressure on the undertaxed wealthy, while creating new investment markets for Wall Street reitirement funds. Directly or indirectly slashing Medicare and Medicaid benefits also reduces that pressure. It would be more effective, more humane, and more rational to reduce Medicare's costs by reducing the effects runaway greed at every level of our health economy - but that would be bad for their investments.
For decades this effort has been heavily funded by Nixon Cabinet member turned hedge fund billionaire Pete Peterson, along with a number of other wealthy individuals and corporations. And they've never lacked for advocates in both parties, politicians who are eager for the attention and plaudits they'll receive while in office and the cozy sinecures as "committee chairs," "advisors," and board members they'll enjoy after retirement.
Let's call this effort what it is: a billionaire- and corporate-funded "anti-social contract movement." And let's recognize it for what it is: the third wave in a movement to capture an ever-increasing share of our nation's wealth for a tiny group of people.
Who's On "Third"?
One of the leading forces in this third wave of the anti-social contract movement is a Potemkin pseudo-think tank group called, appropriately enough, "Third Way." The group's genial and intelligent co-founder, Jim Kessler, effectively deployed many of this Wall Street campaign's techniques in a recent conversation with my colleague Alex Lawson, who is Executive Director of "Strengthen Social Security."
Ari Rabin-Havt's invaluable radio show on SiriusXM Left, The Agenda, provided the platform for this debate. Kessler's to be commended, I suppose, for engaging in any debate at all. Other leading figures in his movement, including media mavens Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, scrupulously avoid any in-depth discussion of their positions with knowledgeable people of different viewpoints -- undoubtedly because of the weakness of their arguments.
This "spider hole" refusal to engage in honest debate extends to the movement's economic advisors, like economist Alice Rivlin, who pretend to write objectively about all possible options for Social Security while concealing the extensive of the most effective ones from her own audience. (We analyzed this practice here.)
But Kessler showed up. During the radio debate Kessler says that "we're a think tank, not a lobbyist organization," making it strictly coincidental that Third Way's positions -- on this and other issues -- so richly serve the financial interests of its Board, which is dominated by financiers from Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Warburg Pincus. (For more on this topic, see "Wall Street Uses the Third Way to Lead Its Assault on Social Security" by law and economics professor William K. Black Jr.)
Third Way's latest assignment is to present itself as a "progressive" group which believes, however regretfully, that we must to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. You know how that goes: "This hurts me more than it hurts you" and all that. But it's difficult to pretend you're "progressive" or "on the left" when your own website drips with disdain the left.